God’s people come home; New Testament version
Before considering the New Testament interpretation of this promise, we should remind ourselves of what the New Testament has done to the other
There was a promise that the Return would be accompanied by guaranteed holiness. But that promise has been fulfilled through Christ, in the gift of
grace and the forgiveness of sins. Holiness
There was a promise that the Return would be accompanied by a permanent state of blessing. But that promise has been fulfilled through Christ, in the
blessing of the Holy Spirit. Blessing
There was a promise that the Return would be accompanied by reconciliation with the estranged faithful. But that promise has been fulfilled by Christ,
in the inclusion of the Gentiles. Reunion
There was a promise that the Return would find them under fresh leadership provided by God. But that promise has been fulfilled in the Lordship of
Christ. True leadership
There was a promise that the Return would be accompanied by a renewed sense of the presence of God. But that promise has been fulfilled for those who
trust in Christ. Presence of God
The implication is that the Return itself must also be understood in the light of Christ.
The full version of this promise would be that God’s people are able to come home once all their enemies have been overcome.
We must first, then, come to a new understanding of what is meant by God’s people and their enemies, leading up to a new understanding of what is
meant by “coming home”.
It is clear, in the first place, that the New Testament at least expands
the definition of God’s people. The way is prepared by the warning
given by John the Baptist, that “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew ch3 v9).
When Jesus discovered the faith of the centurion, he observed that ”many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew ch8 v11).
Even in the Old Testament, Israel had been founded upon Abraham’s willingness to trust in God. Their existence as a faith community was probably
more important in God’s eyes than their tradition of common descent.
The New Testament is more explicit in emphasising the criterion of faith. So Paul distinguishes (Galatians ch4) between the heavenly Jerusalem as the
home of those who trust in the promises of God, and the earthly Jerusalem, the home of those who trust in the Law.
At the end of the same letter, he declares that he glories only in the Cross of Christ, and the “new
creation” made possible by the Cross of Christ, and identifies those who walk by THAT rule as “the Israel of God” (Galatians ch6 vv14-16).
The same point is made symbolically in Revelation. The body of Christ on earth is “sealed” by God under the names of the twelve former tribes
(ch7), and enters into the new Jerusalem through gates labelled by the same names (ch21).
Therefore “God’s people Israel” is now defined in the New Testament as those who trust in God, and especially those who trust in God through
What about their enemies?
The Israel of the Old Testament was threatened by a succession of human enemies.
It is not surprising that the Jewish Messiah was expected to deal with such enemies, or that some thought Jesus had been sent for that purpose and
wanted to make him king.
But the real enemy in the New Testament is the spiritual enemy; the whole complex of sin-and-death which was introduced by the events in Eden.
That is the enemy which was overcome in Christ, through his victory on the Cross. The achievement is symbolised by the “battle in heaven” in
Revelation ch12, which is a dramatized version of the doctrine of the Atonement. “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation
Human opponents of the church remain, of course, but they are dealt with in the final stages of Revelation.
And the “last enemy”, as Paul observed, is death itself, which is overcome at the Resurrection.
And what about “coming home”?
Where is the home to which God’s people can return once their greatest enemy has been defeated?
Jesus compared himself to a shepherd hunting for lost sheep, and “bringing them home”, in that metaphor, means bringing them back to God.
He said of his followers, “these little ones who believe in me”, that their “angels” (their representatives) are always beholding “the face
of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew ch18 v10).
So that is the answer provided by the New Testament. “Coming home” means returning to God and living in his presence.
In one sense, this promise has been fulfilled already.
The overcoming of sin means the breaking down of the barrier which has kept us away from God.
So Ephesians, echoing that promise in Matthew, declares that we are already sitting with him “in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (.Ephesians
ch2 v6). Even now, “your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians ch3 v3).
That is why there is no need for a temple where we can find ourselves in the presence of the living God. The Christian community in itself is the
necessary Temple (1 Corinthians ch3v16).
But we are not fully conscious of living in the presence of God, We are still in “the time of your exile” (1 Peter ch1 v17)
We are waiting for a more complete fulfilment of the promise; “I go to prepare a place for you” (John ch14 v2).
The fulfilment comes in the aftermath of the general resurrection; “So we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians ch4 v17
So the “coming home” is fully consummated in the picture of the new Jerusalem, in the last two chapters of Revelation. This depicts the time after
the fall of the “last enemy”, when God’s people are living permanently in the presence of God, in guaranteed holiness and security.
This is the ”new heavens and new earth” which was promised at the end of Isaiah.
The new Jerusalem is the New Testament fulfilment of all the prophecies relating to “the Return to the land”.